Sports

How basketball stars rallied for Brittney Griner during her detention in Russia

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EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver celebrated the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian custody on Thursday and thanked the athletes who used their platforms to raise awareness about her case since her detention nearly ten months ago.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” Silver said in a statement on Thursday. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

Griner was released this week in a prisoner exchange with Russia, where she has been detained since Feb. 17 and was sentenced to nine years in Russia prison after she was found guilty of drug charges.

The U.S. classified Griner’s case as “wrongfully detained” in May and has been working for months to secure her freedom. After months of negotiations, Russia agreed to swap Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Throughout her detention, top stars in the WNBA and NBA rallied for Griner on and off the court, raising awareness about her case through public statements, putting pressure on the White House to secure her release.

Current and former WNBA stars led the way in the sports world and provided direct support to Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, who publicly called for a meeting with President Joe Biden and asked him to make Griner’s freedom a priority.

WNBA Hall of Famer Dawn Staley, who coached Griner and her teammates to a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics last year, has consistently voiced her support for Griner and celebrated her release in tweet on Thursday.

“God’s grace is SUFFICIENT!,” she wrote. “[Brittney Griner] is home! I love you BG!”

“Seen you soon [Brittney Griner,]” tweeted Los Angeles Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike, along with a photo of herself standing next to a picture of Griner.

Ogwumike, who is also the president of the WNBA Players Association, previously expressed concerns over Griner’s wellbeing in Russian detention and voiced her support for her fellow WNBA player in an interview with “Good Morning America.”

“It’s tough — that could have been us,” Ogwumike said in April, who has also played overseas during the off-season. “We’re really most concerned about her health and safety. Especially her mental health.”

WNBA player Breanna Stewart, who has been tweeting about Griner’s case every day since May and urging action from the White House, celebrated Griner’s release in a tweet on Thursday.

“BG is FREE!!! 294 days and she is coming home!!!” she tweeted, along with thankful hands emoji.

Griner, a Phoenix Mercury player who was visiting Russia in the offseason to play basketball, was arrested in February at the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow for allegedly having vape cartridges in her luggage that contained hashish oil — an illegal substance in Russia. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced in August to nine years in prison.

Griner’s detention took an emotional and physical toll on her, her attorney previously told ABC News, and there were times when she lost hope that she could be released and felt isolated and she faced difficulties that prevented her from staying in touch over the phone with her family.

But her wife Cherelle Griner previously told “Good Morning America” that the support that Griner got from her fellow athletes and the WNBA has brought her “comfort” during difficult times.

The WNBA kept the campaign to “free BG” front and center during the 2022 season on and off the court.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced in May that the WNBA, which kicked off its 2022 season on May 6, would be honoring Griner with a floor decal bearing her initials and jersey number (42) on the sideline of all 12 WNBA teams.

“Things like that matter, like, it has her hopeful,” Cherelle Griner told “GMA” in May. “It lets her know she’s not forgotten.”

Engelbert hailed Griner’s “extraordinary courage and dignity in the face of enormous adversity” in a statement on Thursday and thanked the Biden administration for securing her freedom.

“There has not been a day over the past ten months where we all haven’t had Brittney Griner on our minds and in our hearts and that has now turned into a collective wave of joy and relief knowing that she will soon be reunited with her family, the WNBA player community, and her friends,” Engelbert said.

NBA stars — from Steph Curry to LeBron James — also raised awareness by speaking out on Griner’s case, notably bringing attention to it as the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors faced off in the 2022 NBA Finals.

The Boston Celtics also raised awareness about Griner’s case on the court in June by wearing “We Are BG” T-shirts — a slogan that has become a rallying cry in the WNBA and beyond to show support for the Phoenix Mercury star.

The Phoenix Mercury and the Phoenix Suns released a joint statement on Thursday, thanking the Biden administration, the athletes, the fans and everyone who kept Griner’s “story top-of-mind.”

“The fight to bring her home has illustrated the power of the WNBA, its players, platform and mission,” the statement said. “We no longer have to bring BG home — she’s on her way.”

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